Police on Sunday searched the Asianet News channel office in Kerala’s Kozhikode, a day after three of its employees were booked for allegedly using a fabricated audio-visual and journalists across the state had held protests against an alleged SFI attack on the channel’s Kochi office over the same issue.
The police had on Saturday registered an FIR, invoking sections of the penal code and the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, against three Asianet News journalists over a complaint to the state police chief by CPM MLA P.V. Anvar about a “fake news” in which a minor girl was presented as a victim of narcotics and sexual abuse.
One of the charges invoked is Section 21 of the Pocso Act that deals with failure to report a criminal offence against a minor.
The contentious video clip was part of the channel’s news series called “Narcotics is a dirty business” aired last November. It showed a minor girl facing a reporter with only the back of her head visible in the frame. She recounted how her schoolmate had introduced her to chemical drugs and physically and sexually abused her and 10 others.
The FIR named the channel’s executive editor, Sindhu Sooryakumar, Kozhikodebased regional editor Shajahan Kaliyath and Naufal Bin Yousaf, the reporter based in Kannur who interviewed the minor girl.
MLA Anvar had alleged that the “fake” report needed to be investigated since it gave the impression that the authorities were ineffective and helpless. He also earlier questioned the authenticity of the interview.
In his complaint addressed to director-general of police Anil Kant, Anvar alleged that the minor girl is a relative of an employee of the channel and not a genuine victim and the visual was filmed in the cabin of Shajahan in the presence of Sindhu and one Neeli R. Nair.
While Asianet News has yet to react to this specific allegation, it recently carried a report quoting the minor girl’s father who confirmed that it was indeed his daughter and her voice.
Kozhikode additional superintendent of police L. Surendran told reporters at the culmination of the four-hour search that ended around 2.30pm that it was part of the ongoing investigation. “We haven’t seized any document,” he said, dodging a specific question if they had unearthed any relevant material from any of the computers examined.
The search comes after activists of CPM campus arm SFI allegedly trespassed into the channel’s office in Kochi late on Friday and raised slogans. The police have since booked a case against more than 30 SFI activists.
Journalists across Kerala had hit the streets on Saturday, protesting against the SFI’s action. The latest action against the channel is widely seen as a continuation of the CPM’s feud with its associate editor, Vinu V. John, summoned for questioning recently in another case.
The police had questioned John on February 23 over his statement during a panel discussion that decried a two-day shutdown enforced by Left cadres in March last year. John had said the CPM would learn the difficulties of common people if one of its own was assaulted, just like their cadres did to an autorickshaw driver who was thrashed for ferrying a patient to hospital.